Natick, Mass. -- Around the country, first responders place themselves in dangerous and potentially life threatening situations, all in an effort to protect and serve their communities. Split-second decision-making, through experience and training, along with properly functioning personal equipment, can alleviate threats and reduce loss of life. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) traveled to Natick Solider Systems Center (NSSC) to team up with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC) to make ensure our bravest citizens have what they need when they step into harm's way.

"Our work here was for a project called the SAVER program," said Brian Albert, an electrical engineer with the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL), a component of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. "It stands for System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders Program. We do assessments of commercially available equipment for emergency first responders."

In June, personnel from the DHS and CCDC SC, performed a three-day evaluation of 12 commercially available eye-wear brands for first responders. Members of the Natick Police and Fire Department, the Massachusetts State Police, and the Harrisonburg, Virginia Fire Department were brought in to assist with testing and provide feedback.

"This particular project was for tactical eye-wear," said Albert. "If there is a unit out there that wants to buy eye-wear for the entire group, this is a great resource for them to know what they should buy. We'll show what worked well, what didn't work well."

The eye-wear was rated on criteria such as usability, capability, maintainability, deploy-ability, and affordability.

"We had four operational scenarios, including physical training and medical scenarios," said Albert. "We wanted to see if blood could get up under the eye-wear, as well as dirt and dust from a helicopter. We had them searching for various objects, changing lenses for indoor and outdoor scenarios. We had a shooting scenario in which our participants would put on ear protection with the eye-wear. That was one they requested."

First responder feedback played an integral role throughout the testing planning process.
"We did a focus group here in Natick last year," said Albert. "We asked a group of responders what was important to them in eye-wear and they gave us a number of evaluation criteria. They gave us advice on how to select products and test them. Then we put together this assessment following their advice."

Now that the eye-wear has been tested, and the first responders provided their feedback, DHS employees will incorporate the data into a report, which provides guidance to police and fire departments nationwide. In the coming weeks, the report will be available on the SAVER website at the following link: https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/first-responders

Equipment that meets DHS standards will be added to the Authorized Equipment List (AEL) - a list of approved equipment types allowed under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's preparedness grant programs.

Since its inception in 2004, the SAVER Program has conducted over 100 assessments, encompassing hundreds of pieces of emergency response equipment. Equipment assessed by the SAVER Program falls within 21 major categories on the AEL.